Oh, the humanity

Oh, the humanity

UN panel says climate change is real and we are to blame

By Kevin Uhrich 04/08/2014

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As we found in our feature story this week on page 10, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has taken exception to how some things are dealt with by government agencies here in the United States — how lawmakers, judges, cops, school administrators and other social and political leaders address such things as racial inequities in education and disparities in sentencing; use of the death penalty; excessive use of force by police; and immigration, to name but a few.   

It seems the committee found that there was a basic lack of humanity in how we deal with these major issues on an everyday basis.
 
Conversely, it appears, too much humanity (some of the other sides of our nature — waste, greed, indifference) is being blamed in another United Nations report issued last week, the subject of this one climate change and global warming.

Contrary to any conservatives who still believe otherwise, the earth is changing as temperatures continue rising, and human beings are solely responsible for what scientists foresee as rapidly approaching planetary disaster — one that many experts believe has already begun.

The bottom line of this 44-page document is contained in its very first sentence. Simply put, this highly technical report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states “Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems.” And a key finding of the dozens of scientists involved in all of this research is that “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” states “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” 

In its assessment of the risks involved with a changing Earth landscape, the authors use certain terms to gauge the measure of confidence made in each statement, which are then interspersed throughout the text.

The degree of certainty in each finding is described as “limited,” “medium” or “robust,” and the level of agreement is described as “low,” medium” or “high.” 

Following are some abbreviated findings:
* “In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.”

* “In many regions, changing precipitation or melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water resources in terms of quantity and quality (medium confidence). Glaciers continue to shrink almost worldwide due to climate change (high confidence), affecting runoff and water resources downstream (medium confidence). Climate change is causing permafrost warming and thawing in high-latitude regions and in high-elevation regions (high confidence).”

* “Many terrestrial, freshwater and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change (high confidence).” 

* “Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence).” 

* “At present, the world-wide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors and is not well quantified. However, there has been increased heat-related mortality and decreased cold-related mortality in some regions as a result of warming (medium confidence).”

* “Differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and from multidimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes (very high confidence). These differences shape differential risks from climate change. … People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally, or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change and also to some adaptation and mitigation responses (medium evidence, high agreement).”

* “Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence).”

* “Differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and from multidimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes (very high confidence). … People who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change and also to some adaptation and mitigation responses (medium evidence, high agreement). 

* “Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, often with negative outcomes for livelihoods, especially for people living in poverty (high confidence). Climate-related hazards affect poor people’s lives directly through impacts on livelihoods, reductions in crop yields, or destruction of homes and indirectly through, for example, increased food prices and food insecurity.” 

* “Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change (medium evidence, high agreement).” 

With the report stating that “Uncertainties about future vulnerability, exposure, and responses of interlinked human and natural systems are large (high confidence),” and that “Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,” there is no question calamity is right around the corner. 

But what is to be done? Can climate change really be slowed or even stopped? Can we adapt if it isn’t completely stopped? The report offers a qualified “yes” to both questions. 

“The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change,” the reports states. 
 
How likely that is to occur is out of the hands of the scientists. That remains entirely up to us, and the choices to be made by the better sides of our humanity. 

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